Grade-Schoolers Their Lives Expand : Extra Effort Struggling with learning (part 2) - ADHD Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

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ADHD Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Children with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulties in three core areas: inattention, overactivity, and impulsiveness. Usually these are found together. However, some children are primarily overactive and impulsive, whereas others struggle more with attention and concentration. Children with attention/concentration difficulties were previously referred to as having attention deficit disorder (ADD), but this term is no longer in use. ADHD affects your child’s thinking skills, emotions, and behavior. Cognitively, your child may be very distractible, have a short attention span, find it difficult to plan and organize himself, and struggle to see the consequences of his behavior. Emotionally, he may be excitable, lack impulse control, and have a low tolerance threshold when things don’t go his way. Behavior is characterized by persistently high levels of activity, restlessness, and risk-taking. Estimates vary, but ADHD is thought to affect three to nine percent of children and young people, with more boys than girls receiving the diagnosis.

Q: What does it mean for my child?
A: Children with ADHD have difficulty filtering unimportant information from important information. Their attentional “net” is too broad most times (but other times can become so focused that it’s hard to break out of an activity such as video play). This means that he will often be criticized or reprimanded for “not paying attention” or “not keeping up with the class.” His hands will fidget and his body may be in constant motion. He likely has difficulties planning ahead, getting organized, and completing (even brief) tasks once begun. Lack of impulse control means that he may shout out answers at school, have difficulty taking turns, and be more likely to engage in potentially risky activities such as skateboarding down that very steep road with no helmet or pads.

These difficulties mean that your child may find it harder to conform to expectations and follow social, home, and school rules regarding his behavior. Making and keeping friends can also be a problem if he moves quickly from activity to activity and fails to take turns in games. A lack of understanding regarding the nature of difficulties associated with ADHD may result in children being labeled as “bad.” This can undermine children’s self-esteem and lead to feelings of failure, frustration, and sadness. However, children with ADHD have many strengths, too. They are often creative problem-solvers, have good long-term memory, are enthusiastic, and can be very creative.

Q: What causes it?
A: All children differ in terms of their attentional skills, activity level, and impulsiveness. Only those with the most severe difficulties, impacting significantly on their own well-being and ability to function at home and school, will receive a diagnosis. The exact causes of ADHD are unknown, but several possible explanations have been suggested. Genetic factors may play a part, since parents and siblings of a child with ADHD are four to five times more likely to receive a diagnosis themselves. However, no direct genetic link has been established, which suggests that it is the interaction between inherited temperament and environment that may lead to some children developing ADHD.

Difficulties during pregnancy have also been proposed as a possible cause. Risk factors such as maternal smoking or alcohol use, problems in the womb, and low birth weight are also present in many children without ADHD though. Again it is the interaction of these issues with other factors that may be important. Other explanations have focused on possible differences in brain functioning. Messages in the brain are carried by chemicals called neurotransmitters, which switch on or turn off communication pathways. Differences in how the brain uses the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline in the areas responsible for controlling attention, inhibiting behavior, and planning and organizing have been argued to account for the core difficulties of ADHD.

Q: What can I do to help?
A: The behaviors associated with ADHD can affect many areas of your child’s life, so it is important to share information and work together with other people involved in his care, particularly school staff. As a first-line treatment, you may be invited to attend a parenting program. This does not mean that professionals are blaming you for causing your child’s difficulties or that you are a “bad” parent. An appropriate parenting program will equip you with up-to-date knowledge and the most effective strategies. In addition, your child may be offered individual psychological support and/or a place in a group therapy. These groups aim to help him get along better with his peers and develop problem-solving skills, behavioral self-control, and listening skills.

If your child has very significant difficulties or if problems persist over time, medication may be an option. Depending on his needs he may be offered methylphenidate, atomoxetine, or dexamphetamine. These drugs are thought to work by acting on those parts of the brain where key neurotransmitters are not thought to be functioning effectively.

Support groups for parents of children with ADHD can also be a useful source of information, advice and access to social and leisure opportunities for your child.

Q: How do I get my child tested?
A: Talk to your doctor, who can arrange for you to see a specialist. Tests may be conducted by a pediatrician, child psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or other appropriately qualified healthcare professional. Some areas have specialist ADHD teams that offer assessment, diagnosis, and support services to families.
Full of energy

Children with ADHD are often restless, overactive, and lacking in impulse control.

Paying attention

A child with ADHD may struggle to sit still and focus on a task that others find simple.

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